A prime example of those principles at Cakes & Ale is the flapping-fresh North Carolina trout, cooked in an oak-stoked oven so that the skin crackles with every slice. Beautiful in its simplicity, the fish is filleted at the table, where diners can embellish it with a slathering of mayonnaise enriched with bacon fat. The heat of the fish gently wilts the accompanying salad; its vinaigrette mixes with the centerpiece to become something greater.
There’s more where that came from: an appetizer of fried celery, onion and shrimp that salutes both Italy and the South; sliced leg of lamb supported on a bed of cracked wheat, along with tart yogurt and roasted artichokes and carrots, some of the vegetables dug up from Allin’s half-acre garden; a side of sweet potatoes whipped with spoonfuls of butter and aromatic with cardamom, a trick Allin borrowed from another mentor, Atlanta chef Scott Peacock of Watershed fame.
“I’m inspired by the world,” says Allin, whose aforementioned piccolo frito arrives with a sweet-hot Asian sauce for dipping the fried snack. From the Allins’ bakery next door come desserts you will want to find room for, including a delicate pecan-topped biscuit treated to butterscotch sauce, sauteed apples and a snowy buttermilk sorbet.
Cakes & Ale is what husband and wife found on Google when they typed in “good things in life.” English majors might recognize the phrase from “Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare. “It gives people something to think about,” Allin says of the restaurant’s billing.
Much like the food, the storefront setting is subtle and thoughtful, relying on little more than fresh-cut flowers, a welcoming bar (cocktails are top-shelf) and art that reveals where the owners have lived. Such minimalism is part of their restaurant philosophy, in which food is significant but not the only focus. Says Allin, “I want people to look at everyone and enjoy each other’s company.”
155 Sycamore St., Decatur; 404-377-7994;cakesandalerestaurant.com. Dinner entrees $22 to $34.